Dug Dngr on his name change, 'I'm Sorry for Calling,' and not fearing vulnerability

St. Paul hip-hop artist Dug Dngr
St. Paul hip-hop artist Dug Dngr (courtesy the artist)

A couple weeks ago, I linked up with St. Paul rapper Dug Dngr (pronounced "Danger"). Formerly Dug Hill, the East Side native recently released a new project, I'm Sorry for Calling.

Dug and I talked about what he learned from his last tape, Sirens, why he is so fascinated by romance and technology in the digital age, and why he's not afraid to be vulnerable.

Of course, I had to start our conversation with why he decided to change his name…

What's with the name change?

I just felt like switching it up — kinda felt like rebranding everything with the new drop. Felt like it was dope and went with it, like most other things.

Under the name Dug Hill, you released your first project, Sirens, but recently you dropped I'm Sorry for Calling. What was the creative process behind the new project?

I finished up law school and I was at a clerkship and that ended. I was working for the state, but it was super busy for insurance. I would be pulled down for legal-related work, and I was basically working in a call center. I was super frustrated — not that I'm above everything. But I did all this time in school, and now I'm answering phones, and people are cussing me out and mad about whatever.

I think with I'm Sorry for Calling, I wanted to take the overall theme of not being heard and deliver that into something anyone can relate, like someone not picking up your call. That's where the idea was born, and so we just took it from there.

I'm guessing you must've watched Sorry to Bother You with Lakeith Stanfield. Was that an inspiration for you as well?

I saw it after (laughs) … This project has been done for like a year or so. The first bounced version of "Lasso" was from like April of last year. It's been done for a super long time, but probably when we were midway through, the movie came out and it was crazy.

For folks that aren't familiar with your music, it's important to note that love, relationships and technology in the digital age are something that you've been talking about since Sirens. How has writing about romance in the digital age evolved in "I'm Sorry for Calling"?

Some of the stuff that I'm writing about is just what I see. In the digital age, people are posting what they go through, so what I'm writing about is not exactly what I've personally experienced, but what I see mixed with a lot of my personal feelings, too.

I became fine with being the vulnerable side of myself. That might be a part of the rebrand, which is funny that Dngr [Danger] is the name that we chose, because it's kinda like being funny about it, because vulnerability and being open about how I feel is what I'm going with the later drop.

With Sirens, I'm talking about the same stuff, but its more coded. I feel like I'm Sorry for Calling is a lot more straightforward. With making the project, I don't think we stepped back from the lyricism, but it's definitely easier so you can spoon-feed somebody. It might be more straightforward in a sense, but allowing myself to talk more vulnerably, which is where the shift is.

That's fascinating, because in Sirens, I see you more as a narrator that is trying to describe the darkness of love, lust and technology, whereas with I'm Sorry for Calling, it wasn't just the straightforwardness, it was the stylistic switch-up. I see you dabbling with more R&B melodies and trap beats. You have features from Why Khaliq and Finding Novyon. What sparked this change?

Every project is a project … so going back to Sirens, part two is coming back. There's an I'm Sorry for Calling part II coming. It's fun for me to bounce back between the two, because when you're doing one, you kinda miss doing the other … If you can do both of them, why not? I do enjoy listening to the poppy-trap hip-hop, so that's why I wanted to veer into it, but I always want to go back to my roots with the more rapping stuff.

With I'm Sorry for Calling, I was messing with my voice, and everything was trial and error. I just went with it and was vibing out, so that's how we got to that.

With the features, me and Khaliq played grade-school basketball together and we played in high school together for Highland Park [in St. Paul]. We've always been cool, always been super good, so we have a few songs together from the past. … So, I thought about him for a feature. I think the same sort of thing for Novyon; it was something that was up his alley. I try to meet folks where they are and try to make it happen.

When I think of Why Khaliq and Finding Novyon, they're two artists in the Twin Cities that are constantly coming out with new heat and trying to elevate the Minnesota sound. I'd imagine that hopping on a track with them must be a fun challenge for you, no?

Yeah, definitely. The song with Khaliq, that was only supposed to be an interlude. Then we made it, and it sounded too good to only be like a minute … he got on there and it just built up with the vibe. With Novyon, the song was mostly done by the time I sent it to him, so he just completely wrecked his verse. Khaliq completely killed his. After you record and hear what they added, it completes it. Shout out to both of them, because they killed it.

As a listener and supporter of your music, I keep getting mad at you for these five-track projects. I be listening to your music as I drive and the tape will finish, then I gotta go find something else to listen to jam to. Are you ever gonna give us that long-form album, or you just gonna keep teasing us? What's good?

(Laughs) … Nah, nah, it'll definitely be longer. We do record a lot. There's so many tracks that we have. Now that I'm done with school, I have more time. Now that I work, I can come home and my time is my time, I'm definitely gonna be putting more out and releasing more frequently, because I know that was a problem. I think it's been like two years or a year-and-a-half between the two drops.

Now that I have the time and everything to focus on it, I can get more out and spend more time making a full project. We talked about themes earlier — I feel that everything has to be in a theme and be cohesive. So, when it gets to 10,12, 15 tracks, you gotta make it all fit in still.

So, you say you have all these tracks ready to go when you're working on a project. What does the process look like for deciding the five songs that make the cut?

Ultimately, it's just the vibe really. We sit and listen; it's usually just me and my producers … whichever ones feel the best are the ones we rock with. We have a lot of incomplete ideas, so it can sometimes be random. I'm Sorry for Calling was kinda just random, because my producer, Alex, was moving out of town. So, we were like, "We have enough, so let's just put this out."

Your girlfriend, Leah, makes an appearance on the album; in fact, she's the first person we hear in I'm Sorry for Calling. Of course, it's just her voicemail, because she doesn't pick up. How does she feel about being part of your music?

She didn't even know. She doesn't know until everybody else finds out (laughs)! I literally just called her, and she didn't answer on the intro of "R U There." I was calling to remind her of something, and we were about to record and [I got] her answering machine. We recorded it and decided to keep it.

What was her reaction to it?

I mean, she loved it. She vibes with it a lot. But whether or not she decides, she's going to be a part of it. It's not really up to her … She'll hear it when it comes out. It's kind of a done deal.

She's just like, "Whatever, I guess. It's done"?

Yeah, that's it… (Laughs). But she's a big fan and is very supportive.

I'm geeked that Sirens II and Sorry for Calling Again are coming up. What's the timeline for those projects?

Actually, there's a few more [projects] in between. If you look at my board, it's a mess. Me and Kirk Frost have a project that's halfway done. And then me and Pete Stylez have so much recorded. He's probably pissed at me right now. My plan for the [songs] that weren't part of the project is to release them gradually.

I don't want to give a date, but in a month or so I'm going to drop another short. I'm thinking around August, we might get a follow-up to Sirens. … So soon. I'm just trying to crank it out.

I saw this music business insider article that said that there are over 400,000 songs added to Spotify every day. There's so much content and only so many consumers. As an artist working to master your craft, how are you thinking about your brand and how you stand out, especially with your upcoming projects?

I think it's tough. There's a lot of oversaturation. Not saying that it's not good, because there's lots of people who are making lots of good things. But because it's so accessible, there's just so much that's coming out.

For me personally, I just wanna stay in my own lane and focus on what I'm doing, versus veering into what everybody else has going on. Just trying to keep an optimistic outlook, because the chances are slim. I think the people listening are enjoying it though.

If it's one person and they're enjoying it, that's good enough for me, I'm not tripping. We do it, because I just love doing it, not like this is my big ticket, necessarily. If it does happen or whatever, then that's awesome.

Just focusing on that rather than thinking about how much people are putting out and how I'm supposed to compete with that, because you can't. There's nothing you can do about that. Music is accessible and it's easy to do, so people are gonna do it. Just putting out the best that I can and the quality that I think I can do.

What are your thoughts on how the sound is evolving in the city and how artists are helping to raise the bar of Hip-Hop in Minnesota?

I think it's super diverse. On a national scale, if anything comes to mind, when you think of Minnesota hip-hop, you'll probably think of the underground. There's a very distinct sound that comes about with that. But what I been hearing [from folks today] is very diverse, and I think that goes back to how accessible music has become. My setup here is at the crib, and you can formulate your own studio. You don't have to go to a huge studio, which some people don't like.

Being able to create what you want feeds you as an artist, and whatever that is, whatever you want to make, I think it's dope. As for individual artists here and the music, I love where it's going and where people are taking it. It's not just the boom bap, the underground, the trap — everything, I appreciate it all.

Are there artists that you would like to collaborate with from the Twin Cities?

I got a track that I'm gonna send to Student 1. I'm excited to send that over to him. I don't know; I just want to work with everybody. I like Allan Kingdom — I think it would be dope to work with him. I don't listen to one pocket, I try to listen to as much as I can. I'm trying to work with everybody.

Any final thoughts?

[I think it's important that] when you look at my aesthetic, with the pink and flowers [on my albums], everything is deliberate. It's all about being yourself, and being vulnerable, vibing out. I just want folks to know that it's OK to feel.

I'm Sorry for Calling is available wherever you stream your music. Don't sleep on Minnesota Hip-Hop!

Jeffrey Bissoy is an assistant producer at MPR News. Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and raised in The Twin Cities, Jeffrey has grown a passion for representation and identity, Hip-Hop, and the impact of sports on society. He's also the host of the podcast — The Come-Up — which stays current with the weekly drama of the NBA and also covers the Women's World Cup.

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2 Photos

  • Dug Dngr, 'I'm Sorry for Calling'
    St. Paul hip-hop artist Dug Dngr's 2019 release, 'I'm Sorry for Calling,' with cover art by Caroline Alkire. (Caroline Alkire/courtesy the artist)
  • St. Paul hip-hop artist Dug Dngr
    St. Paul hip-hop artist Dug Dngr's 2017 project, 'Sirens' (courtesy the artist)